Balancing Efficiency and Ethics: The Benefits and Risks of Using AI for Proposal Writing

Kyla Steeves, Content Marketing Manager at Loopio
Kyla Steeves

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful assistant for everyday life. You can prompt it to plan a perfect vacation, deliver a heartwarming wedding speech, or even create a chart-topping hit like Drake and the Weeknd.

But is there an opportunity to effectively use generative AI at work? Tools like ChatGPT can revolutionize how you respond to RFPs and speed up your steps in proposal writing—but can you trust everything it tells you?

To shed light on these important questions, we heard from two proposal pros on opposite sides of the AI scale. ⚖️

Read on to learn their perspectives about the benefits and risks of using AI for proposal writing, including:

  1. Conquer writer’s block with 6 proposal prompts
  2. Watch out for proposal plagiarism and inaccuracies
  3. Gain a winning edge by adding a human touch
  4. Safeguard confidential information from data leaks

Benefit #1: Conquer Writer’s Block With 6 Proposal-Focused Prompts

According to Loopio’s RFP Trends Report, proposal teams take an average of 32 hours to craft a single RFP response. With competitive pressure mounting (thanks to a down economy), RFP teams may feel the push to submit a higher volume of bids.

“In theory, if you submit more RFPs, you technically have a higher chance of winning,” says Tana. “As proposal managers, we’ll continue to see this pressure approach, so we must do our due diligence in looking at what tools are out there to expedite this.”

That’s where generative AI like ChatGPT can shine. After all, artificial intelligence will never experience writer’s block—the nemesis of most proposal professionals. 

“With ChatGPT, proposal managers can get over writer’s block early on. It expedites that thought process, the content gathering and framing out of ideas.”
Tana Burhans, Director, Marketing & Proposals at Atkins
Tana Burhans
Director, Marketing & Proposals

When faced with the anxiety of a blank page, ChatGPT comes to the rescue, serving a trove of ideas to jump-start your proposal. It can even take the first pass at questions, defeating the “cold start” that often leaves subject matter experts (SMEs) frozen in their tracks.

That said, proposal managers should refrain from using AI-generated content word-for-word. As you’ll see below, that’s a recipe for ineffective proposals and potential copyright issues. Instead, consider it a rough first draft—a canvas to tweak, expand, and tailor to your company’s voice.

“You have to convert it into your own brand and your company’s voice,” says Tana. “That’s the critical way to take ChatGPT from where it is and actually apply it to your proposals.”

✍️ Prompt ChatGPT: Brainstorm 6 Ways to Fast-Track Proposal Writing

1. Craft quick win themes: Synthesize large volumes of data to quickly identify points that support your primary “why choose us” message.

2. Summarize biographies: Pull information about senior leaders at your company from LinkedIn (or their resumes) to wrap up a speedy, executive bio.

3. Write first drafts: Draft repeatable content like proposal cover letters, executive summaries, or frequently asked questions from client requests.

4. Formalize meeting notes: Summarize transcripts from proposal meetings, including agenda items, team member talking points, and action items.

5. Maintain a consistent voice: Take written answers from different SMEs and ask GPT to rewrite with one tone and voice.

6. Proofread and edit: Detect grammar mistakes, spelling errors, and inconsistencies in proposal writing (even cross check your proposal’s compliance to the bid request).

Risk #1: Maintain Proposal Integrity With Plagiarism and Fact Checks

AI is smart, but it’s prone to misinformation and even human biases developers can unintentionally build in. “Anything I do in ChatGPT, I almost assume that it’s not accurate and then vet it,” says Tana. “Do additional research and make it truly represent your organization.”

Repeat after me: fact check, fact check, fact check.

There are also potential risks associated with intellectual property. It’s possible for Open-AI tools like ChatGPT to generate content that’s eerily similar to something that already exists online. If you use that content word-for-word, you could face copyright infringement.

“I think you always have to ask yourself, what’s going to happen if this turns out to be copyrighted?”
Rob Wunder, RFP Director at Agfa Healthcare
Rob Wunder
RFP Director
AGFA Healthcare

The opposite side of that is ownership loss. Who owns the intellectual property when you upload information to ChatGPT? Since the AI tool generates content independently, the answer to this question is still muddy as it can be tricky to determine the original creator.

As always, err on the side of caution. Read the terms of use carefully and understand what you’re voluntarily handing over. ChatGPT will not stop someone from copying your content unless you take steps to protect it yourself. 🛡️

Want to learn more about writing proposals? Learn how to create a repeatable RFP response template (PDF example included).

Benefit #2: Add a Human Touch to Proposals Amidst an AI-Driven Landscape

As AI becomes a more prominent tool in the RFP world, the playing field will change significantly. Just like you, your competitors are likely exploring the use of AI for proposal writing too—and here’s where you can seize an advantage.

In a sea of AI-generated content, you can gain a winning edge by adding a human touch. “Clients have already grown accustomed to reading the same responses,“ Rob says, “there could be a swing back where you can separate your proposal from the crowd with human-written cover letters, executive summaries, etc.”

To throw another curveball at proposal professionals…

Tana foresees a scenario where procurement teams leverage AI to gather information on potential vendors. For instance, they may task AI to list the top five engineering companies in Washington that have worked on billion-dollar projects.

This AI-driven insight will provide them with detailed knowledge about industry expertise, innovation, and risk mitigation, shaping their decision-making process. And competing against it will pose a challenge for proposal teams, especially as procurement relies on it more and more.

To succeed, you’ll have to find alternative ways to differentiate your company, and that’s where personalization becomes paramount.

For example, AI can whip up a section in a proposal, but it might not understand the purchasing personalities of the specific customer you’re speaking to. Knowing how to refine AI-generated proposals based on your knowledge of the customer will pay off in the long run.

“I think a great application of augmenting the human side of proposals is speaking directly to who you’re doing business with. Like we really understand our clients, we care about them, we understand the problems that they face, and this is how we’re providing a solution.”
Rob Wunder, RFP Director at Agfa Healthcare
Rob Wunder
RFP Director
AGFA Healthcare

Risk #2: Safeguard Confidential Information From Competitors in the Age of AI

The more AI booms, the more security risks become a concern for companies across the globe—such as the potential for hacking and data breaches.

Spoiler alert: there have already been instances of data leaks. For example, Samsung restricted the use of generative AI tools after employees uploaded confidential information into ChatGPT.

This is one of the main reasons Rob has hesitated to implement this tool. “I definitely see the potential for AI to help,” says Rob. “But in my current industry [healthcare], a lot of our stuff is proprietary. So, I wonder what my security team might think about us using it.”

That’s why it’s important to remember that ChatGPT is an open-source software—all information is publicly available. In other words, once you enter something into ChatGPT (like financial information), anyone using the tool can access it, use it to their advantage, and leak it.

So, if you’re granted approval to use AI for proposal writing, become the first line of defence. “I encourage everyone to err on the side of caution with what you’re putting out there,” says Tana, “Ask yourself: is it okay if this falls into your competitor’s hands?”

As an extra precaution, consider establishing policies and safeguards to mitigate risks and protect sensitive data before winding up in a Samsung-scenario. Chances are, many of your team members already use ChatGPT, given its free accessibility.

✍️ Prompt ChatGPT: Outline the Right Course of Action for Using AI Safely

1. Assess your needs: Evaluate your proposal team’s specific needs, goals, and use-cases for AI. Consider the type of data involved, the level of sensitivity, and the potential impact if it falls into the wrong hands.

2. Assemble the Proposal Avengers: Collaborate with the right stakeholders, including IT, security experts, legal, and leadership to assess and manage the risks associated with AI implementation for responding to RFPs. (Psst…many big organizations, like AECOM, are putting together an AI task force already.)

3. Establish security policies: Just like developing a social media policy, providing cross-functionality guidelines on how to use AI may soon become commonplace. So, start developing policies that address data privacy, team responsibility, and compliance with regulations.

4. Provide training and awareness: Educate your proposal team about the risks associated with the use of AI and the importance of adhering to company protocol. Promote a culture of founder-level ownership (i.e. everyone needs to take responsibility).

Moving Forward With Confidence: 5 Golden Rules for Using AI for Proposal Writing

AI can be a game-changer for your RFP response workflow—but tread carefully. Implement the proper review process to ensure accuracy, and most importantly, don’t lose sight of the human elements that make for a winning proposal. 💖

In other words, think of ChatGPT as a proposal writing intern. It can deliver, but the output will only be as good as the direction and oversight it receives.

Plus, knowing how to work with AI and give it useful prompts will be one of the most sought-after proposal writing skills. As AI becomes a more regular tool in our working lives, a skill gap will surface that divides the proposal management workforce.

“Interactivity with the tool is key. We’re not AI scientists, but we, as proposal leaders, should look into whether this is a skill gap we’ll need to start developing in our teams. The earlier, the better.”
Tana Burhans, Director, Marketing & Proposals at Atkins
Tana Burhans
Director, Marketing & Proposals

By using ChatGPT for proposals now, you’ll know how to vet AI-created content, and can guide others on how to use it.

Just remember these golden rules:

  1. Use it to get the juices flowing, not to write your entire finished proposal
  2. Always fact-check because AI can generate inaccurate or biased information
  3. Never enter something into a chatbot that you classify as confidential
  4. Leverage the time you save to focus on creating even higher quality, personalized proposals
  5. Set clear guidelines for your team so they know the limits of AI and how to avoid security risks

Discover the Future of AI Proposal Writing With Loopio

Learn more about how Loopio is building a powerful AI-toolkit for RFPs, what’s currently magical in the platform, and which GPT-capabilities are coming soon. 🪄